Philippines says China carrier in South China Sea raises tension

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Wednesday the imminent arrival of China’s sole aircraft carrier in the disputed South China Sea for the first time for a training mission would raise tension.

The carrier Liaoning left port from the northern city of Qingdao accompanied by two destroyers and two frigates on Tuesday. While in the South China Sea, it will carry out tests and drills, according to China’s military.

China says the mission is routine.

China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, rejecting the rival claims to parts of it from Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said the carrier’s arrival was a worrying development that contravened agreements with China on managing tension in the South China Sea.

“Its deployment raises tension and violates the Declaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.

“Its deployment must not be violative of international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Hernandez added.

China and the Philippines have accused each other of violating the code of conduct, a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed by China and ASEAN in 2002.

The dispute over the sea is one of the region’s biggest flashpoints and underlines the significance of China’s military build-up and the U.S. strategic “pivot” back to Asia.

The Philippines, a U.S. ally, has angered China by launching an arbitration case with the United Nations to challenge the legal validity of China’s claim.

Though considered decades behind U.S. technology, the Liaoning represents the Chinese navy’s blue-water ambitions and has been the focus of a campaign to stir patriotism.

China has separate disputes with Japan and South Korea over different sets of small islands.

Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel